Lou Piniella is loved. Make no mistake about it. An otherwise cynical Cub Fan Nation worships him as if he was able to walk on water, despite the fact that Criss Angel showed us how that miracle is performed through the use of mirrors and trick photography.
Last season, as the Cubs slowly chugged out of the starting block, people like myself felt a growing sense of frustration toward the much-loved Lou. I thought he was lacking in drive. I felt that he was abusing his bullpen. I argued that he was too slow to make a change, such as moving the shitacular leadoff man Alfonso Soriano to anywhere else in the lineup. I created a clever graphic that suggested the Cubs should "axe Lou."
The response was vile anger, and for one GROTA blogger it was the first blow in a succession of them that led him to retire from the site. In other words, don't mess with Lou Piniella.
We are the same fans who chased Dusty Baker out of town. We're the guys who caused Lee Elia to spew a profanity-laced rant decades before they became en vogue. We heckle, we name-call, we are second only to Philadelphia in our ability to turn on even an icon.
And Lou Piniella is hands-off.
This may also be his swan song in a Cubs uniform. In his time with Chicago, he became the first manager in a century to lead them to back-to-back first place finishes. He is the first skipper since Chance to take the Cubs to the playoffs. He has yet to suffer a losing season as a Cub. In other words, the guy has been freakin' amazing.
He's also in his mid 60's. He will be 67 this year. When he walks, his gut leads him as if to announce his imminent arrival. He has "senior moments." He doesn't seem to have the same fire that once defined his career. He insisted on batting Alfonso Soriano leadoff for a long-ass time last year.
If baseball is a "what have you done for me lately" sport, the answer in Piniella's case is "lose 6 straight playoff games, many of which the Cubs were favored to win."
But managers rarely win baseball games. We notice it more when they lose them, and, unlike Dusty Baker, Piniella rarely loses games. We can't assume that the next guy, whoever he is, will do better than Lou, and he may in fact do worse.
Therefore, as the 2010 season starts, we at GROTA put the full weight of our support behind Lou Piniella. May he do fantastically well this year. May he do so well that it elicits a new contract in the off season, and may he return in 2011 do perform just as admirably well yet again.
And welcome to the final installment of the Round Table (well, next-to-final). Again, if you have arguments, agreements, or anything in-between that you'd like to share with our sometimes-ridiculous opinions (those would be mine, mostly), please feel free.
6. Who will be the first on the DL?
Rob - DLee. The seat belt in his car will lock up during a sudden stop, wrenching his neck.
Yarbage - I’m going with Ted Lilly and Angel Guzman…oh…other than them. Hmm, I think Alfonso will spend at least two weeks at some point on the DL.
Byron - I think I always predict Aramis... but I'll go with Ted Lilly this year.
Mike - Oooh good question. That's a crapshoot. I guess I'll take Silva in that we'll DL him with "ineffectiveness"
Peter - Well, we don't have to hide Troy Patton or any other Rule 5 pick for that matter so this is a tough one. Outside of Lilly and Guzman, I guess I'll go with Chad Tracy. I feel his familiarity with the DL makes him a decent candidate.
AJ - If you don't count guys that are already injured (Guzman, Lilly, Nady, and I guess Gray?), I'll go with Aramis. I'm suspicious of that triceps.
Phil - Soriano.
Kurt - Ryan Theriot! Why? Because nobody expects it!
7. Who will be the first player suspended?
Rob - Marmol. He will stick a pitch in someone's earhole at an inopportune time. He will deny intent, but since the unfortunate hitter will require admission in hospital, the league will have no choice.
Yarbage - The Cubs are going to realize that Jeff Samardzija can’t really pitch and he’s going to throw at Prince Fielder on April 23 in Milwaukee. Fielder will charge and break his finger and miss four weeks ending Milwaukee’s season. In the meantime, Samardzija is suspended for five days and is sent to AAA to prepare to start the 2011 season.
Byron - That's a tough one. I'm going to go with Todd Ricketts (the cool Ricketts brother), even though he's not a player. I could see him sitting by the dugout, heckling the umps ala Mark Cuban. Need proof, watch the guy on the far right in this video, 1:06 - 1:20. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK7a6O8-2FA)
Mike - I'll go with 0 suspensions this year.
Peter - I don't think anyone gets suspended this year. At least not for anything all that fun.
AJ - Z.
Phil - I'll stick with the obvious and say Zambrano
Kurt - Theriot again! In fact, this is how he hurts himself -- after getting beaned in the 4th inning sometime next week, he'll charge the mound, get tackled from behind by the catcher, and dislocate a shoulder, suffering a 2 game suspension in the process.
8. What can we expect from surprise success story Randy Wells?
Rob - sublime innings eating, absorption of life lessons from Greg Maddux, consistency.
Yarbage - Randy Wells is a perfect fourth starter. There is no way he repeats his success of 2009, but I see a 12 win, 3.75 ERA this season.
Byron - Maybe Wells will be the first player suspended. I could see a story emerging where he brings one of his hunting rifles to the Cubs lockerroom and starts pointing it around, and then the league has to explain to him about gun safety. Wait. That was Gilbert Arenas... and I'll bet you Randy Wells understands Gun Safety. No, we can just expect 8 wins, 11 losses, and a lot of pictures of him wearing his Camo-Cubs hat.
Mike - A regression to the mean. A .500 record and an ERA of 4 and a quarter. Which is just fine for a #4 or 5 starter making league minimum. Don't expect another 3.05 ERA people..it's just not happening.. the secondary stats arent there for a repeat. But he'll have great facial hair!
Peter - More of the same. The story of Randy Wells is one of consistency and control. Throwing Greg Maddux in the mix to tutor him can't hurt that equation.
AJ - A 4.50 ERA and an 11-13 record.
Phil - I can't see him having the same kind of numbers this year. Probably about a 4.50 ERA, 11 win season.
Kurt - He's probably not the next Greg Maddux, but I doubt that he's not the next Jeremi Gonzalez, either (lightning can't strike twice, can it?*). If the Cubs expect from Wells a solid #3 or #4 pitcher, then they probably won't be disappointed. He might win 12, he might even win 15. He might get his ERA below 4, or it might be just above it.
(*too soon? Bad taste?)
Tomorrow, apart from being opening day, we'll unveil our new Series Preview graphic, we'll wrap up our final thoughts on the season, and we'll do our final 2010 Preview -- Lou Piniella. It should be a busy day at GROTA. We hope to see you here often.
Part 2, Expectations
1. What's one thing you think will happen this year that no one else expects?
Rob - Soriano becomes the fifth outfielder, eventually spending most of the year on the DL with a mystery ailment.
Yarbage - I really think the Cubs win the Central. Last year, everybody was on the Cubs bandwagon, but one bad move and a shoulder separation later it is all about the Cardinals. If there is one thing that Chris Carpenter has taught us it is that he can’t stay healthy for long periods of time. The Cardinals also are counting on washed up Brad Penny, silly Cardinals.
Byron - On July 4th, Aliens will park these monstrous space ships above all the major world cities, but the only city they'll attack is Rio de Janeiro. Chicago ends up getting the 2016 Olympics after all, and... oh sorry. The Cubs? Maybe free beer coupons on Fan Appreciation weekend.
Mike - Marlon Byrd hits 25+ homeruns and we're excited to have him.
Peter - Jeff Baker is the starting second baseman by June.
AJ - I think Alfonso Soriano will hit .290 and knock in 90 RBI. I know everyone is thinking he's old and automatically on the decline, but I think his power will play much better in the 6-hole than it did in the leadoff spot. That's probably a more bold prediction than "John Grabow will suck."
Phil - When Xavier Nady gets healthy, he will put up some great numbers and become a fan favorite.
Kurt - All of the offensive question marks get answered with authority. Ramirez? Healthy and productive. Lee? His decline is gentle and non team-destructive. Byrd? A solid addition to the outfield. Soto? A great year back. Fukudome? His mediocrity is neither worse nor is it detracting from the team. Even Fontenot puts up respectable numbers.
2. How disappointed should we be if the Cubs fail to make the playoffs?
Rob - on one hand, nobody, absolutely nobody in the 'legit' media expects it. On the other hand, perspective tells us that this team is still more talented and competitive than any other Cubs team since the late 60's-early 70's. We're closer than we've been in nearly a century. If a deadline trade can be made, and isn't, I will be crushed.
Yarbage - The Cubs have spent a lot of money, but it has not been the best return on investment. All of the questions I hear about the Cubs is the rotation, but I think they will be just fine. Zambrano, Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells are a solid top four, and it shouldn’t be too hard to get one guy to step up for the no. 5 spot. That should be enough to better the Cardinals.
Byron - We should be disappointed because the Cubs should make the playoffs (and win the World Series) every year. How disappointed will I be? Just mildly.
Mike - If you're being rational, not very. You shouldn't think the Cubs are a sure thing to make the playoffs. If anything, be upset that Hendry and co. have managed to build a $140M .500 ballclub.
Peter - No one seems to be picking the Cubs to win this year, so from a media standpoint it shouldn't be a disappointment. However, this team is more talented than they have been given credit for and should at least make a decent run at the top of the division and/or the Wild Card. I'll only be disappointed if this team decides to mail it in by August. Outside of being competitive through the whole season, everything else should be considered gravy.
AJ - Not very, but I think that's the point this year. Last offseason, everything we read said "Cubs are a lock to win NL Central," and I think the pressure made the chemistry and injury issues look even worse. This time around, no one will be surprised if we go .500 -- which will make it all the more fun if we do get hot at some point.
Phil - Not that disappointed. I'll be disappointed if they are not at least competing for a playoff spot though.
Kurt - For the money they are paying, and for the even lesser likelihood of a 2011 playoff trip (due to the contracts of aging mediocres like Sori and Fuku), this is a must-make year for the Cubs. I'll be disappointed if they fail.
Stay tuned! In part 5, we'll be discussing the future of Hendry and Piniella, the team MVP, and the team goat!
Welcome to Part 3 of our continuing round-table adventure! In this edition, we look at Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, and the Cubs bullpen.
6. Alfonso Soriano, 120 games played
Rob - as they say in all the new Bud Light commercials, Here We Go...under. Under. Under. In disclosure,I felt he was the best free-agent of the offseason of 2006-7, and the fact that WE signed him signaled a new era in the franchise. The Signing of Soriano is so much bigger in Cubs History than his mere contribution as a player, which at this point in time, is nearly nil.
Here is the weakest link, kids. IMHO, Soriano is done. D-U-N. If I was Piniella, I'd bench his limpy ass right now, and dare Tommy RIcketts to fire me. The Cubs have better learn to play without this guy. Maybe Zell put a gun to Hendry's head when they signed this guy, because, woof. I'm not saying he's jaking it, no. And if somebody offered me 100 bazillion dollars to play a kids' game, I'd take it too. But, jeez, what a horrible, miserable contract.
Yarbage - If he hits I think he will play in over 120 games, but I’m not sure he’s going to hit. We’re paying him a lot of money, so I’ll take the over on this one.
Byron - Over. Soriano stays healthy but probably not very good. This is a double whammy, keeping Colvin on the bench and loading us with a little Fred McGriff redux.
Mike - Sori's played 135, 109, and 117 games in his three seasons on the Northside. Another year older, more brittle, and with $19M more in his pocket, I dont expect him to reverse the trend. buckle up Cubs fans, this contract's getting HIDEOUS starting this year. I'll predict 105 games, a .260 average and maybe 18 HR.
Peter - Over. I figure he has to actually earn the money he's getting paid... right? If he hits, he will play. I get that Tyler Colvin is the biggest item of praise to hit the North Side since Sam Fuld!, but I don't see him in the everyday role just yet. Thus, we could really use Soriano's alleged bat. Here's to hoping that Jaramillo gets Fonzie back on track.
AJ - Over. Between Colvin and Nady, I think Soriano benefits from more regular rest, and that it helps him stay healthier longer.
Phil - Under. Soriano probably won't be healthy, and when he's be healthy I am seeing strikeouts and pain. And Awful, awful errors. *sigh*....
Kurt - Over, for one simple reason: he's bound to have one healthy season with the Cubs. And if he has one healthy season, he's bound to do well. And if he has one healthy season, his defense is bound to be better. And ... and ... well, maybe not. But Phil, Sori's defensive woes in 2009 were almost certainly because of his leg problems. If he's healthy, he'll be an asset in the outfield. Mostly.
7. Geovany Soto, 162 second helpings at dinner
Rob - Under. This year we get Skinny Soto. Who knows for next year, though.
Yarbage - Geo’s lost 40 and I’ve lost 75, so I’m thinking his second helpings are gone like his weight, because I gave them up and started running. I figure he’s as committed as I am.
Byron - Geo and I went to Weight Watchers together this winter. Geo was successful, I wasn't. I'll take the under.
Mike - Under. He'll stay skinny. Is this a shot at his weight or his affinity for pot? I'm confused.
Peter - Under. If the under doesn't happen, the Cubs should look into adding a "burrito clause" to his contract like the Astros did for Carlos Lee.
AJ - For fun, I'm going to interpret second helpings as doubles plus home runs plus RBIs, and I'm going to call it a push.
Phil - Hey, it's another question mark on the 2010 Cubs! (Seriously, does any team have more question marks going into the year as this team?) Geo will stay fit, and what a handsome young chap he is! Under
Kurt - Under. Actually this is the year where we find out how well he plays when under pressure. In 2008, we saw his pure ability. In 2009, we saw what happens when he doesn't make the effort. In '10, he has the pressure of production coupled with the knowledge that one more bad year makes him a likely bust, despite the fact that he clearly has the ability to produce when shapely (hey, if "in good health" = healthy, then "in good shape" = shapely, right?). I'm interested in seeing how he handles it.
8. The bullpen, 10 changes by the All Star Break
Rob - Over. Lilly will return, this bullpen is young, and I still believe that Hoffpauir and one of the Second Basemen du Jour will get traded for a Jason Frasor-esque figure before long.
Yarbage - Wow, it seems like a lot of changes, but I could see it really easy. The bullpen was really rough last year and they could use another piece, because I’m not sure “The Shark” will be an effective pitcher. I’m going with the under, because 10 seems like a whole lot of changes by July.
Byron - I think I should ask for the definition of what exactly a bullpen change is... but I really don't have to. Unless you define it as the Ricketts moving the physical location of the bullpen, I'm pretty safe taking the over.
Mike - Over. There's gonna be a lot of moving and shaking...there's just too many similar pieces in Iowa (Gaub, Stevens, Gray, Mateo, Parisi, Diamond, Parker, etc.) that they could shuffle with the current back-end of Smardge, Russell, and Berg.
Peter - Over. The 'pen is a work in progress and will go through periods of fluidity until the right formula is found. Hopefully that formula involves a trade for a veteran reliever that isn't washed out.
AJ - Well, let's count. Russell will go down for Lilly, Shark will go down for Gray, Berg seems likely to be replaced... I don't see 10. Maybe six or seven, though.
Phil - Over, and probably over by May. This bullpen will more than likely kill any legitimate attempt the Cubs have of contending this year. This Bullpen will beat us down, make us cry, and sadly, we know it's coming.
Kurt - As ridiculous as this seems, over. The bullpen will be one of woe in 2010.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of the Round Table, where we discuss our specific expectations of the team. I'm particularly interested in the answers to the first question I asked the group, "what's the one thing you think will happen this year that nobody expects?" If anybody shares the same answer, then they're automatically wrong! Can't wait! Stay tuned!
To pick up where the last article left off...
3. Carlos Zambrano, 12 wins
Rob - over. I don't see him EVER meeting the high expectations we all had for him, or ever truly earning his lofty salary. But he ought to win 12 games with his bat alone.
Yarbage - This was the easiest pick of the day. Carlos Zambrano will win at least
15, maybe a couple more. Big Z is due a monster year and this is it
folks. Put it in the bank.
Byron - Over. I mean, if someone had told you a Cub had been injured while sitting in a chair, wouldn't you have expected it to be Big Z in years past? Z finally breaks through. (I'd have to check, but I've been unsuccessfully predicting that for each of the last 4 years I think.)
Mike - I'm quite bullish on Big Z (note..i'll call him that no matter how skinny he gets). I think he leads the team in wins, ERA, and strikeouts this year. I'll say 15-10 for the skinny Venezuelan.
Peter - If I'm in Vegas I don't put money on this one way or another. My instinct says it'd be a push. Over the past two seasons, Demp has thrown 406 2/3 innings for the ballclub and is only one year removed from a 17 win season. My gut says the home runs allowed go down from last year, the K/9 rate stays about the same and so do the walks allowed and Demp walks away with 15 wins on the dot.
AJ - Over, by just a couple. He won't sniff 20 wins, but the man's a gamer. And I know every year the writers hoot and holler over folks being in the "best shape of their life" but photos of Z make me actually believe it in his case.
Phil - Over. Though sadly, most Cubs fans expect won't be happy with him unless he bring each one flowers, wins a Cy Young, and hots 45 home runs. I am hoping to see a 17-18 win season for Large Zed.
Kurt - Over. Will the Carlos Zambrano of our dreams ever step up and deliver unto us the Cy Young season we so justly deserve? Probably not. Will he ever overcome the so-called maturity issues that have plagued his career? Doubt it. Will he stay healthy for the remainder of his epic contract with Chicago? Unlikely. But Carlos is better than what we've seen, and if he pitches 30 games in 2010, sucky bullpen or no, we will see more than 12 wins.
4. Carlos Marmol, 30 saves
Rob - over. It BETTER be over. If he can keep his concentration all year, there's no reason why he can't dominate. He acts like he wants it, it has always been a matter of his maturity. Keeping my fingers crossed...
Yarbage - Eh…I would love Marmol to have a lock down great year, but I don’t see it in truth. Even in Spring Training he has been all over the place. I think he will be fine for the most of year, but will only save around 28 games. So, under and I hope he proves me wrong.
Byron - Over. If Joe Borowski can get 30 saves, then surely Marmol can. Right?
Mike - Under. Another guy I dont trust. I actually think he'll pitch himself out of the role.
Peter - Over. I don't expect the Cubs to be blowing out opponents all year, so there should be ample opportunity for Marmol to take the ball in the 9th. Marmol has some of the filthiest stuff in the majors, it has always just been a matter of believing in his stuff. Hopefully I'm right here.
AJ - Over. Somebody mentioned Borowski; I think the opportunities will be there for him, and I don't know who will take the job from him, and really that's enough for 30 in today's game.
Phil - Under, though not because he will do poorly, I think the bullpen guys in front of him are gonna be blowing a lot of games. By July we may be wishing for the good ol' days of Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman.
Kurt - The optimist in me says over, because I know all-too-well that a failed Marmol equals a failed 2010 Chicago Cubs. There's just no other train in the station. But let's take a breath and be honest here -- there is something wrong with Carlos Marmol. Maybe it's a mechanical issue that can be fixed, maybe not, I dunno. Regardless, this is not the closer we were looking for. Under.
5. Lou Piniella, 5 ejections
Rob - under. He can say whatever he wants, but Sweet Lou has lost the fire. Hell, he might not even leave the dugout five times this year, not counting pitching changes and little trips to check if Font is ok after fouling balls off his shins.
Yarbage - Can I put money on this one? Is this the real line? If it is, I’ll take the under this year. It seems high for me for some reason.
Byron - I'll propose a formula:
# of Lou ejections = # of Cubs losses/15 - 2 + # of day games at Wrigley with a temperature above 95.
Al Gore says things are getting warmer, so we'll fix it at 3 hot day games. Working backwards, we'd need 75 losses for 5 ejections, and that's 87 wins... but with rounding, well I'll just say push.
Mike - Probably under, but not because there's good baseball on the field..just because he's mellowing out.
Peter - I don't see it, so under. This isn't the Lou Piniella that used to only talk to his (Devil) Rays players in four letter expletives. He's become "Sweet" Lou, the loveable, fade off into the sunset, "can't wait to drink margaritas in Florida" guy that just happens to be managing a team. Honestly, I'd prefer never to see him leave the dugout to argue a call because if he doesn't, it likely means the Cubs are doing fine on their own.
AJ - Under. Man's old.
Phil - Under. Has Lou had 5 ejections total in his time with the Cubs? And are we sure he is still alive? Zombie Lou is mellow Lou.
Kurt - if the Cubs suck, over. If the Cubs win 55% of their games, under. Call it the cheap way out because I'm not giving a definitive, but where the Cubs go, so goes Lou's temper. Then again, he spent a year in the same clubhouse as Milton Bradley, and yet he managed to avoid taking his festering frustration out on anybody in the field. Maybe AJ is right. Man's old.
Tomorrow, we'll continue this long-winded round table by examining the health of Alfonso Soriano, the appetite of Geovany Soto, and the status of the bullpen. Stay tuned!
That's partly because Marlon Byrd is, historically, not a super hitter, and partly because Xavier Nady has, in contrast, shown an ability to swing the bat. Over an eight year career, Byrd has 60 home runs; from 2006 to 2008, Nady hit 62.
That last year was the best of Nady's career. He hit 25 jacks, and managed a .305 batting average in the meantime. His .357 on base percentage and .510 slugging percentage were both solid.
Unfortunately, 2009 did not go as well. An elbow injury all but eliminated the entire season for him.
So now that he's back, what can we expect? Probably something less like the 2008 Nady, and something more like the 2006-2007 version: a homerun per 25 plate appearances (so maybe 12-15 in the amount of action he'll see), a .280 average, and some passable corner outfield defense.
A fine fourth outfielder indeed -- if his elbow heals up.
Quick, who's the new outfielder for the Cubs in 2011? I say there is a better than average chance that they come from AAAA - Texas. This season, the Cubs latest call up was Marlon Byrd, who is pretty much nothing like last year's version, Milton Bradley. In the end, Byrd will probably cause less news stories, but might not actually lead to any extra wins.
From all kinds of reports from various media outlets, Byrd is a good guy and is all smiles. That's all well and good, but can he hit in Chicago? In Texas, Byrd was a good hitter. He finished with a .808 OPS with 20 HR in the MLB's best hitting park. Byrd combined for 20 HR in the previous two seasons, so Cub fans better not expect a huge year from the new center fielder. Most of the projections for Byrd has him hitting somewhere around a .775 OPS with 15-20 HR, which is just average.
Can Byrd get better? Eh...I think that we can only hope he continues to play at the same level.
In the field, Bill James and the stat heads don't really like Byrd that much. He did play in a huge ball bark, but he does rate an improvement on Kosuke Fukudome in center. Fukudome was a UZR -18.8 last year, while Byrd was only -8.8. His defence is better in left field, which he could move to in the later innings possibly.
Byrd doesn't really inspire much greatness in the hearts of bloggers, at least of this blogger. I'm convinced that Hendry's strengths is in trading and not free agent signing. We really need two different GM's, but that is a story for another post. Until then, enjoy the new center fielder. Hopefully, he won't be suspended at the end of the season.
My instinctive reaction was that Millar had no place on this team, and that Tracy's ability to back up at third (along with his handedness) made him a potential asset on the bench. I thought that Millar was old and washed up, and that Tracy was unlucky health-wise and still might have some value.
At least I was right about their ages. Millar is just this side of 40, while Tracy is just about to turn 30 himself (which makes him younger than both Ryan Theriot and Micah Hoffpauir). But even though it's generally a telling statistic in baseball, in this case the old adage rings true: for Millar and Tracy, age is indeed just a number.
Tracy has managed to take about 750 total at-bats over the past three seasons, appearing in 270-something games. That's 500 fewer at-bats and 100 or so fewer games than Kevin Millar over the same time frame. And even when he did hit, his performance wasn't much better than Millar's; their OPS numbers are pretty much the same since 2007, with Tracy claiming a slight lead.
With Theriot, Lee, Ramirez, Byrd, Soriano, and Soto starting every day, and Nady and Baker on the bench against righties, you'd think Tracy's ability to hit left-handed would be valuable for the Cubs (he's got an OPS against righties of .841 in his career). But Millar as certainly outhit him this spring, and the need for two second basemen and five outfielders might leave him off the team.
If the Cubs open the season with 11 pitchers, Tracy might get the 25th spot on the roster. Even then, it's hard to see him getting a ton of at-bats this year.
It seems like it was just yesterday that people were clambering for Micah Hoffpauir to take over at first base. Derrek Lee was coming off a disappointing year where he hit into a gizzilion double plays, and there was Hoffpauir killing it at AAA for the Iowa Cubs. The problem was Hoffpuair was a little old for AAA, and even after his 25 HR campaign, it was probably a good bet that he wouldn't repeat that in the majors.
Well, the Cubs were tired of seeing Daryle Ward's ample bat and other features, and gave Hoffpauir a chance to be the LH pinch-hitter and sub for Derrek Lee. Needless to say, it didn't go very well. The Hoff hit 10 HR's, but only had a .727 OPS in 234 AB's for the Cubs last season. This year he is battling for a bench spot, but he has a few things going against him. First off, he hasn't hit in Spring Training. Then there is the fact that he isn't as funny as Kevin Millar, which seems to pull a lot of wait these days. We found out last year that Hoff is probably more of your AAAA player and not as much as a MLB player. He will begin the year back down in Iowa, and might be called up if someone gets hurt. I hope that doesn't happen, because that means the Cubs are in for more trouble in 2010.
My new big boss was in my cube today, asking me about some of the stuff I have up on the wall. He's not a Cub fan by any means, but he is a sports fan and recognized most of the faces on the buttons I have up there. One he didn't recognize, and I mentioned it was Bobby Dernier, our leadoff hitter in 1984-5. I described him as the last decent leadoff hitter we have had, which goes a lot to explain why our team has not won a pennant in 65 years.
With apologies to Kenny Lofton, my statement is pretty much fact. Along with my evisceration of the pudgy Geo Soto last year, my constant droning about the lack of a leadoff hitter also put some of you off. Too bad.
Our current leadoff hitter and shortstop is Mr. Ryan Theriot, from LSU. Anyone who tells me that he is a great leadoff hitter and shortstop instantly proves to me that they don't know dick about baseball.
Is he bad? No, not at all. After concerns about his durability in 2007 and 2008, I think he held up pretty well throughout the entire season last year. He hits for a good average, has decent plate discipline, and most of the time has a plan when he walks up to the plate. He is probably our best situational hitter, and honestly, of the people we have currently, he is the best one suited to hit leadoff. His OBP is near the top on the team, save a monster year by DLee or a typical year by Fukudome.
And is he our best shortstop? I would say so. There really isn't much of a dropoff defensively between he and Andres Blanco, who is supposedly a glove guy. I believe that The Riot is a bit underrated and Blanco a bit overrated when it comes to their defensive reputations.
If forced to make a prediction, I think he will hit around .280, get on base about .360, and make about 12 errors at short this year. He will score over 90 runs. He will be a steady clubhouse presence, and will extend his share of Cub rallies. A decent year by any estimation.
Thus endeth my good words about The Riot.
Because really, calling him the best Cub shortstop or best Cub leadoff hitter is the supreme definition of damning with faint praise. He is a miserable baserunner - I said he will score over 90 runs this year - with as many hits and walks as he gets, this number should be over 105. He pisses away that many runs every year, thinking he is a speed merchant, when he is probably slower than his midget friend Font. He gets caught stealing more than any Cub I have seen in perhaps my entire life.
I realize that few of our leadoff men could even manage to get on base often, and he at least can manage that. But OBP is just the bare minimum requirements for a leadoff man. A leadoff man gets on base, and causes havoc for the opposition. They worry about stolen bases, hit-and-runs, bunts, and those thoughts just don't happen when The Riot is standing at first. Usually the first baseman lets him take a lead, the shortstop and second baseman decide who gets to tag him.
And in the field, he isn't miserable, he doesn't flub as many easy plays as, say, the Ramirez kid on the South Side. But no matter who we play on a given day, Riot/Font, Riot/Baker, this is not a strong up-the-middle defense that is going to save runs that the offense deserves to have. In fact, we give up a few runs every year that the offense does NOT deserve to have. His range is not great, his arm is average at best, and his shortstop instincts simply are not there. The great ones can hold runners by executing fakes and by getting to the right spots on cutoff plays. Shortstop is the position he has played in his professional career, but that is more due to the needs of the club, rather than his superior skills.
Ryan Theriot. Won't cost you the pennant, but won't win you one, either. The Kyle Orton of the Cubs. The Prince of Meh. Your leadoff hitter and shortstop.